Samar Arny carried her infant son while her older child clung to her leg. Both boys ran a high fever, Arny hadn’t had a chance to shower in days, her husband was deployed and she was in an unfamiliar community, far from her family and past career.
This was the moment Samar Arny, wife of Capt. Matthew Arny, commanding officer of Naval Air Station Whidbey Island, committed to helping other military spouses who she knew must be experiencing similar challenges.
Now living in Oak Harbor as the base commanding officer’s wife, she’s brought her zealous efforts to promote professional empowerment, education and wellness to the Officers’ Spouses’ Club of Whidbey Island.
Earlier this month, she held an expansive Military Spouse Empowerment Summit, in which speakers from corporations such as Microsoft, Boeing, Starbucks and Nordstrom gave workshops and presentations centered around career advancement, entrepreneurship, networking and utilizing resources for transitions. Vice Adm. DeWolfe Miller, commander of the Naval Air Force Pacific Fleet, and his wife also spoke at the all-day event.
Despite the name of the club, Samar Arny long ago began breaking down the traditional division between enlisted personnel and officers and has a habit of inviting everyone to her events.
“For me, it does not matter who is married to who,” Arny said. “… I wanted them all to be united.”
Although she enjoys the role of “COW” (commanding officer’s wife), it wasn’t an easy transition.
Samar Arny was born in Lebanon and studied advertising and marketing at Notre Dame University – Louaize in Beirut.
She worked in marketing for a time, founded a nonprofit organization and then worked as project manager in a public-private partnership with the Abu Dhabi government. In this position, she reluctantly went to a networking event hosted by a friend of hers after working long hours with children living at the border with Saudi Arabia.
At event, she happened to exchange business cards with a U.S. embassy representative named Matt Arny. She had originally hoped the embassy could help her project to improve education in remote areas of the country.
“Then we did not talk about that, we went a different route,” Samar Arny said with a laugh.
She took another position with Dubai’s government, heading operations for the inspection and rating of more than 500 schools in the country. While in the United Arab Emirates, she and Matt Arny were engaged.
They married in Cyprus; October marked the couple’s 10-year anniversary.
The newlyweds then moved to Lemoore, Calif., where there was “cow smell everywhere,” Samar Arny said.
She enjoyed the quiet, but the lifestyle was quite a dramatic shift from what she’d had as a self-described workaholic living in a high-rise in the cosmopolitan city of Dubai.
Her husband became commanding officer of Strike Fighter Squadron 154 and shortly afterward was deployed. As the “COW,” she was expected to take a leadership role in ensuring the families of the squadron are taken care of.
She said she was so nervous that she had her husband write what she should say at the first meeting with the spouses, and, of course, what he wrote was filled with acronyms she didn’t know yet.
Not long after, she received news both that she was pregnant with her first child and that her father’s health was failing. She traveled back to Lebanon to see him and led the spouses’ club meetings through Skype.
Her time spent in Lebanon was exceedingly difficult, made worse by being put on bed rest during her pregnancy. When her son was born and she returned to the U.S., she reaffirmed for herself that she didn’t only marry Matt Arny but also the Navy and its mission.
“I decided to create a mindset of empowerment,” Samar Arny said.
In addition to her work with military families, she continued to receive additional credentials and seek higher education. When the family moved to Sweden, her husband served as Naval attaché to the country, and she became a community liaison coordinator at the American Embassy. She’s still a foreign service family resource corps member and has maintained her top-secret clearance.
The job might not have paid as well as her senior position in Dubai, but she said she enjoyed her time there.
“I felt like I was achieving something as well as making a difference,” she said.
A year ago, the family moved again to Whidbey Island. They visited for a week in January, during which she experienced Whidbey’s typical winter weather — cold, dark, windy and rainy.
“I feel in love with Oak Harbor in five days in January,” she said with a laugh.
She thought it was beautiful, and she did didn’t miss Sweden’s snow and subzero temperatures.
Since arriving and becoming honorary president of the Officers’ Spouses’ Club of Whidbey Island, her impact has been immediate and tangible.
In May, she organized a much larger military spouse appreciation forum than the club had done in the past. It also included speakers who are military spouses, including state Rep. Norma Smith, R-Clinton, state Sen. Barbara Bailey, R-Oak Harbor, and retired Navy captain and astronaut Heide Stefanyshyn-Piper.
“Samar really dug in,” former OSCWI President Teresa Leisenring said in a May interview.
“Samar just wants to do anything that lifts our spouses up,” she later added.
Slowing down isn’t really in her nature, either. In December, she’s helping organize the second consecutive holiday bazaar, which will sell items made exclusively by veterans or military spouses.
Arny said she doesn’t think she necessarily has to be so involved and that no one would think less of her if she didn’t show up as often as she does. She doesn’t consider it a “duty” so much as just something she enjoys, she said.
“I’m serving in a different way,” she said. “We’re serving together.”